The History of Skiing at Longmire and Paradise
Mt. Rainier National Park
A summary from Linda Helleson's The History of Skiing in Mount Rainier National Park
edited by Ed Strauss
 

Introduction

    "Of all the snow-capped peaks which parallel the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the mightiest and the snowiest. Here on this massive 14,400 foot volcano, the annual snowfall averages more than 600 inches. It is not unusual to have a snow depth of 15 to 20 feet at the 5,000 foot elevation, or a quarter of that 2,500 feet lower. Thus, one should not wonder that Mount Rainier attracted some of the first skiers in the Northwest. After all, snow is obviously one of the main attractions. With such heavy snowfalls, one is likely to find good skiing conditions in December, April, or in June. The glaciated valleys, cirques, and mountain ridges of Rainier and the neighboring Tatoosh Range offer varied skiing terrain, all within a very short distance of the other. Skiing among the snow mantled giants of the lowland forest is in overwhelming contrast to skiing the corniced open slopes near timberline.
    Yes, the weather can be fierce and unpredictable. As much as 37 inches of new snow has been recorded in 24 hours. Daily snowfalls of 15 to 20 inches are not uncommon. Some snow is light and dry; but as often as not it is heavy and wet. High winds, white outs or unseasonable rains have forced many disappointed skiers to cancel well planned ski excursions.
    But when the winds cease and the snow is feather light; or, when the clouds clear away and THE MOUNTAIN is visible, well there are the conditions,  the memory of and the hope for, which have attracted three generations of skiers to Mount Rainier."
 

Earliest Skiers

    "Located only some 70 miles from Tacoma and 100 mile from Seattle, the population centers of the region, Rainier had been a favorite summertime recreation area even before the National Park was established in 1899. These early generations of summer hikers and casual visitors began to imagine how beautiful this area would be in the winter under a blanket of snow. 
    The Tacoma Mountaineers were probably the first and most influential group to realize the potential for winter sports development on Mount Rainier. They are thought to have skied in Paradise Valley in 1915 or 1916.  In 1919 the Northwestern Ski Club held it's 3rd annual tournament at Paradise Valley on June 29. The 1923 tournament attracted entrants from all over the country and Canada, Nels Nelson, "amateur ski champion of the world" made a record jump of 240 feet! During this first decade, much of the skiing was necessarily limited to the early summer months because of the lack of public overnight accommodations within the Park and because of the impassability of the road into the higher parks.
    In 1923 the road was plowed in the winter to Longmire. About 10,000 people visited the Park that Winter. Soon ski rental, snow shoe and toboggan rental, dog sled rides, and a top class toboggan slide were available at Longmire."
 

Racing

    "The first significant ski tournament was the Silver Skis race held in April, 1934. This was a race for experienced skiers. The race course ran 3.16 miles from Camp Muir (10,000') to Edith Creek Basin (5,200'). The first winner, Don Frazer skied the course in 10 minutes 49.6 seconds. The best time ever was set by Peter Radacher at 4 minutes 51.6 seconds in 1939! All this over unknown and varied terrain.
   Puget Sound civic clubs succeeded in attracting and hosting the 1935 U. S. Olympic trials and National Championship in slalom and downhill ski events at Paradise. The downhill course started above Paradise at Sugar Loaf (8,500'), dropped to Panorama Point and into Edith Creek Basin (5,200'). This course had a 35% drop. Hans Schroll, a skilled German skier who delighted the crowds (by yodeling), won the men's downhill race 1.7 minutes ahead of the second place finisher! Ellis-Ayr Smith from Tacoma won the women's race. The quarter mile slalom course with a vertical drop of 600 feet was set up on the "back side" (east side) of Alta Vista. Schroll and Ethlynne Smith won those races. The nation was caught up in the excitement of the ski races in Paradise Valley. Sportscasters from the Columbia Broadcasting Company sent the excitement to distant homes. Three wire services documented the details for the newspapers. Paramount newsreels brought the action to life again and again in neighborhood theaters."
 

Transportation improvements

   " In 1930 the road was kept open to Canyon Rim. This shortened the distance to Paradise to 2.5 miles. Two years later that distance was cut in half when the road was kept open to Narada Falls. In the 30's the Paradise Inn remained open in the winter. "During the 1935-36 season the Park Company was advertising that it could accommodate 900 persons in Paradise Valley. The first winter that the road was open to the public all the way to Paradise was 1936-37. Private cars were still parked at Narada Falls. But a Company stage operated shuttle bus service beyond that point. Imaginative skiers took advantage of this bus service and skied the mile and a half downhill run from Paradise to Narada several times a day."
 

Lifts

   " The skiers wanted a mechanical lift and that is what was installed for the 1937-38 season. A de-mountable type ski lift, similar to those installed that year at Mount Baker and Snoqualmie, was constructed by mechanical wizard Jim Barker. Powered by a V8 Ford motor, the first tow had a capacity of 250 skiers an hour. The run went from the saddle of Alta Vista to the old guide house. Initially the ride cost 25 cents or $1.00 all day. The next year rides were 10 cents a run. Approximately 100,000 skiers were visiting Paradise annually by 1939."

Ski Dorm

   " Because skiing had a particular appeal to the young people, the Park Service thought a special effort should be made to accommodate them. Funds were secured and the Ski Dorm was built by the Park Service and leased to the Park Company to house at least 80 people in four rooms in addition to provide a lobby and workroom facilities. Rates were not to exceed 50 cents a night."

WWII

    The 40's brought war which shadowed development of ski areas. "Other priority programs, such as national defense, even extended into isolated mountain valleys. During the midwinter months of 1941, two U. S. Army ski patrol detachments, the 15th Infantry and the 41st Division, engaged daily in winter wartime training. Park Rangers assisted in the training of these 25 men who were quartered at Longmire but skied at Paradise 5 times a week. The following winter 500 members of the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment were stationed at Paradise. When public services were suspended, a contract to house the men in the Paradise Lodge and Tatoosh Club were negotiated. These arrangements did not interfere with winter recreation. In fact the infantry men helped sponsor ski events, furnished doctors and first aid, set courses and operated radios for weekend contests."

50's

    "Public demand was such that the road to Paradise was reopened in the winter of 1954-55 for the first time since 1948-49." The ski lifts went up again and Paradise was considered a nice little ski area. It couldn't keep up with the development of chair lifts at other Cascade ski resorts. The Park Service would not approve any permanent structures that are required for chair lifts or gondolas.
 

80's

    The ski lifts closed for good at Paradise when no company bid on the contract for the concession. Now all winter travel in the Paradise area in the winter is self propelled. Skiers, snow shoers, and snow boarders have found Paradise to be the premiere winter recreation site in Washington State. It has the highest (5,400') destination that is all paved and plowed on a daily basis. It has the most undeveloped and uncrowded terrain which contains both rolling hills and steeper ridges and chutes.

The complete text of The History of Skiing in Mount Rainier National Park by Linda Helleson is available at the Longmire library, Mt. Rainier Nat'l Park.